Former Utah Wildlife Commissioner Under Investigation for Baiting Mule Deer
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Former Utah Wildlife Commissioner Under Investigation for Allegedly Baiting Mule Deer

A former Utah Wildlife commissioner is under investigation for allegedly baiting a mule deer. According to the Utah Investigative Journalism Project, a report named Wade Heaton as a suspect in a state investigation. Investigators allege that Heaton committed several baiting violations on Heaton Ranch in Kane County.

Heaton resigned last fall just five days after the report. He cited personal reasons for the resignation. "My life has continued to become busier and more complicated," Heaton wrote, "and I no longer feel that I have the time needed to serve on the Wildlife board."

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, a spokesperson with the Utah Department of Natural Resources confirmed that Heaton is a suspect on the report. Currently, the Utah County Attorney's Office is screening the report. So what does all of this mean? Well, Heaton runs a hunting venture at his ranch. He offers guests the chance to bag mule deer on his property. "Regardless of who is being investigated, a conservation officer will investigate the alleged violation and collect any pertinent evidence," a statement read.

Former Commissioner Investigated

The report alleged that Heaton is one of seven suspects in the DWR's investigation into unlawful big game baiting. He is also allegedly being investigated for unlawful taking/possession of protected wildlife, and "a pattern of unlawful activity." One witness alleged they saw sat licks and water troughs on the ranch while hunting on the property with his father. "We asked the outfitters about it three different times and they were like 'No, the division knows about it,' and 'We've talked to the division about it and they're fine with it," he told the outlet."As far we were concerned, Mr. Heaton is the division."

Since 2021, Utah has banned baiting big game due to its affects on the population. Baiting is defined as "intentionally placing food or nutrient substances to manipulate the behavior of wildlife for the purpose of taking or attempting to take game." There are some exceptions to the rule if landowners have special permits. However, it's not clear that the former commissioner had these permits.

Heaton served as county commission from 2020 to 2023. Governor Gary Herbert also appointed him to the Utah Wildlife Board in 2019 as well. In 2004, Heaton was accused of cornering deer on his property, but no charges were ever filed despite video evidence. "I don't think there was anything illegal that went on with it," he said. "It was too bad. And obviously that's not the way people like to hunt."